From headlining the Super Bowl LV Halftime Show to co-creating and starring in an upcoming HBO show to selling out stadiums worldwide, Abel Makkonen Tesfaye — better known as The Weeknd — is certainly busy. The Canadian singer skyrocketed to fame in 2016 with his hit “Starboy.”
Here’s what the “Blinding Lights” singer says about the differences between his personal life as Abel and his stage persona, The Weeknd.
The Weeknd’s humble beginnings and rise to superstardom
Back in 2009, Tesfaye began anonymously uploading songs to YouTube. The following year, he met producer Jeremy Rose, who approached the up-and-coming singer with an idea for a contemporary R&B project. Together, they created three songs: “What You Need,” “The Morning,” and “Loft Music,” according to Vice.
These songs blew up online. And in 2011, Tesfaye then self-released his debut mixtape, House of Balloons, under the name The Weeknd.
“I started singing to girls and I was getting great feedback,” the singer explained to GQ in 2021. “The second instance was when ‘What You Need’ came out. It was the first song that came out from The Weeknd. Nobody knew what I looked like. I was not popping. I was struggling at the time. A good friend of mine hooked me up with a job at American Apparel, and I was folding clothes there when somebody at the store played the song. Mind you, nobody knew who The Weeknd was.”
Since then, The Weeknd has gone on to create the longest-charting song on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Blinding Lights,” per The Guardian.
Abel Makkonen Tesfaye vs. The Weeknd: ‘Abel is someone I go home to every night’
In the GQ interview, Tesfaye opened up about his decision to initially keep his identity a mystery. He also explained the differences between his personal life as Abel and his professional life as The Weeknd.
The Weeknd is known for his over-the-top performances, signature red blazers, and iconic collaborations with artists including Daft Punk, Ariana Grande, and Kendrick Lamar. But on a more relatable note, Tesfaye admitted to binge-watching The X-Files during the pandemic.
“The lines were blurry at the beginning,” Tesfaye said of his life as The Weeknd and Abel. “And as my career developed — as I developed as a man — it’s become very clear that Abel is someone I go home to every night. And The Weeknd is someone I go to work as.”
The “I Feel It Coming” singer admitted that it’s a “Jekyll and Hyde situation,” with The Weeknd being Hyde and Abel being Dr. Jekyll. To separate the two, Tesfaye often “kills” his public persona in his music videos.
“I think it’s me removing The Weeknd from Abel,” he said. “I think a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, he’s suicidal.’ It’s not that. I think it’s me removing The Weeknd from the world, but he still finds his way back. He keeps coming out. ‘Blinding Lights’ is obviously not going to have him disappear anytime soon.”
Why The Weeknd was notoriously private about his personal life
GQ also asked Tesfaye why he wanted to remain anonymous early in his career.
“I don’t know,” he responded. “Maybe there is a deeper issue with that, but I feel like with me it’s never been about the artist and the image of the artist. With House of Balloons, nobody knew what I looked like. And I felt like it was the most unbiased reaction you can get to the music, because you couldn’t put a face to it. Especially R&B, which is a genre that is heavily influenced by how the artist looks.”
As a celebrity, Tesfaye also feels guilty about bringing so much attention to the non-famous people he dates. And he tries to keep his relationships out of the spotlight.
“I do feel guilty. For sure,” he told GQ. “That’s why I don’t… I try not to do too much. I just try not to bring attention to myself. And I just love being in normal situations, man. It’s such a great feeling. To be able to just like go on a walk and not being in a f***ing SUV.”